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EGYPT: Some Copts and Muslims come together during Orthodox Christmas

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Christian Orthodox Christmas has long been a nettlesome holiday for Egypt's Muslims: Some have taken to extending kind wishes to their Coptic neighbors while others have gone as far as forbidding any celebration of the birth of Christ.

This year's Christmas was a different story, however. The church bombing that left 25 dead and at least 80 injured in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria on New Year's Eve seems to have finally made millions of Muslims aware of the nation's Islamic extremism and dangerous sectarian divide.

In a sign of goodwill, thousands of Muslims attended Christmas masses on Thursday and Friday alongside Christians. "I'm here to tell all my Coptic brothers that Muslims and Christians are an inseparable pillar of Egypt's texture," Mohab Zayed, a Muslim attendee at a Mass in a church in the Heliopolis district of Cairo, told The Times. "Copts have to know that we will share any pains or threats they go through."

A large number of prominent Muslim intellectuals, actors and clergymen also joined Copts in their masses. Adel Imam, the Arab world's most famous actor, and Amr Khaled, a popular islamic preacher, attended Christmas liturgies.

Also on Thursday, hundreds of Muslims organized a candlelight vigil to show solidarity with Copts in downtown Cairo's Tahrir Square. Copts had to celebrate Christmas amid both mourning and great security worries as the Ministry of Interior deployed thousands of armored vehicles, no less than 70,000 police officers, metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs around churches across the country.

A campaign initiated by Muslim cultural tycoon Mohamed El Sawy called on Muslims to act as protecting shields outside churches Thursday and Friday. Leaflets were handed out by Muslim volunteers reading "we either live together or die together," referring to Copts and Muslims.

Coptic student Nader Rizkallah was happy to see Muslims get involved in efforts to get closer to Copts. Nonetheless, he wondered if such solidarity will last.

"I'm really glad with the spirit some Muslims have shown this Christmas, but did we have to wait for something disastrous like the Alexandria bombing to get closer? Will we stay this close next Christmas even if no deadly attacks occur before it?" Rizkallah told The Times.

Last week, ´╗┐Coptic Pope Senouda III appealed to the Egyptian government to start tackling the grass-roots of the sectarian problem in Egypt as a first step toward avoiding further attacks and stemming hatred of Copts in Egypt.

Egypt's Copts, who have long complained of inequality and been marginalization by the Muslim majority, amount to 10% of the country's population.

--Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Protesters carry Korans alongside Bibles and crosses in a solidarity demonstration in Cairo. Credit: Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (7)

I'm happy and sad! Happy, slightly, to see Muslims and Christians come together like the old colonial times. Sad because I know it's only temporary as everything stays the same:
- The laws discriminating against Copts.
- The daily discrimination and inherent hatred Muslims have for Christians, that is nurtured everyday by their preachers, satellite channels, books ... and Islam itself, whose teachings do not tolerate coexistence with non-Muslims (who have to suffer, leave, convert ... or die!) . In spite of some contextually tolerant verses in Koran Muslims always site, it's unfortunately full of others reeking with unconditional open-ended violence towards non-Muslim, that any true Muslim who reads his book cannot turn a blind eye to. There's no way to be moderate in Islam, except by not practicing the real Islam, by picking up what you like and leaving out what you don't. Koran is the book of desert tribes who lived a harsh life and had to kill and attack others to survive (the Tartars would have had a similar book, had Muslims hadn't stopped them!) How could such people have a place in our 21st century? The future looks gloomy for non-Muslims. They have no choice by feeling their home country before it gets worse. Hopefully the West is a better place, as long as the cancer is kept from spreading there too. I hope the US, EU, and other world countries will not have the same fate Egypt, Iraq, Syria and other Muslim countries had in the past before the cancer ate away at their past civilizations and turned them into Muslim states.

I haven't seen any accurate polling across the country about this, and the numbers of muslims that joined christians in Christmas Eve services are up for dispute.

But, things aren't looking good here. Extremism is undoubtedly growing for the same old reasons. On the muslim side, a hard life, and foreign (saudi) media push people towards absolutist religion, and on the Christian side, government and societal discrimination encourage more isolationism and resentment in their communities.

In the past week we have seen the worst and the best of the Egyptian psyche. But the trend is still moving towards division and violence.

The bottom line is that things are getting worse there for the Coptics. Just like it is getting worse for Christians across the Islamic world. This is a never ending problem, and it is past time that America ends all Muslim immigration.

To answer comment questioning why it is edited to make it look not representative, the story was leaked by Egyptian government official media.

It is interesting as event, but we might need more data to evaluate what it means.

EXACTLY my thought, Richard.

Nevertheless, I'm glad to see _this_ news make it to any mainstream media in the first place. Apparently, most papers focused today on one clause of Sarkozy's address, and failed to mention anything about this story or even the rest of Sarkozy's speech.

This is a most touching show of solidarity by those Muslims who attended mass or stood guard around churches in Egypt, and their efforts should be commended. It is a sign that maybe people are waking up, but is a bombing what it takes?

Although Copts have always been a part of Egypt, until the laws governing equality are amended there will continue to be discrimination and prejudice, and like over the past years, violence. The government needs to take a stand, and turn the talk into law making building and repairing churches just as easy as building or repairing mosques, in addition to allowing Christians equal access to positions in government and so on.

When I lived in Egypt, there was talk of Muslims and Christians being equal, but that talk was by Muslims. The daily inequalities are evident, big and small.

There needs to be a solid and continuing standard of tolerance and equality, and that begins w the law. Until that happens, it's just empty talk, and like usual in Egypt, nothing will change.

I'm struck by the use of the word "some" in the headline. Every other article I've seen about this used the (correct) word "Thousands". Some makes it seem far less significant and certainly not as dramatic as it must have actually been. This was obviously a conscious choice by the editor. Why?


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